Page 10, 24th January 2003

24th January 2003
Page 10
Page 10, 24th January 2003 — How to tell a Swede from a Dane

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Organisations: Royal Geographic Society
Locations: London, Bradford, Cambridge


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How to tell a Swede from a Dane


Claus von Bulow

The new year is traditionally a time for bouquets and brickbats. My first accolades will go to unique performances, unique in the sense that they were heard only once and were not repeated. In this category I will mention the Last Word Lunchtime Lectures at the. Royal Geographic Society. They are now in their 10th year, and, as the tabloids and television compete in dumbing down their customers, The Daily Telegraph, which sponsors the series, deserves our gratitude. The speakers have included our era's most renowned movers and shakers, philosophers, historians. architects, and scientists. and they are introduced by the beautiful Louisa Lane-Fox who, as an impresario, rivals her lecturers in brilliance. This semester gave us, inter alia, Christopher Lloyd, the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, who told us about the handful

of prescient collectors without whom Britain would not have any impressionist pictures: Sam Courtauld, Hugh Lane, and the almost unknown Davies sisters in Wales. Seamus Heaney, the poet. was followed by Jon Snow on "Media, Spin and Politics".

But I particularly want to mention the scientists. who were as persuasive performers as any I have witnessed on a theatre stage in that they, however briefly, made me think that I understood everything about theoretical cosmology and genetics. Janna Levin, a young Cambridge professor, speculated on whether the universe was infinite, and the ever popular Steve Jones persuaded me that men are just mutations, since Eve, far from being Adam's rib, predates him by a billion years. Readers of The Catholic Herald will be interested to know that when Professor Jones asked one of his students whether he could reconcile his faith with Darwin, he received this disarming reply: 'It is quite simple, Sir, you evolved and I was created." As good dialogue as in any London theatre.

The other group of one-off performances was a week of six new plays from the Nordic Coun

tries organised by the Royal Court Theatre. The same morons, who cannot tell one Chinaman from another, believe that all Scandinavians. including their au pair babysitters. are indistinguishable. Each play had been expertly translated into English. yet, I could. even with my eyes closed. tell which plays were written by Swedes. Norwegians, Icelanders or by my fellow Danes.

A Norwegian playwright could be recognised by his chip-on-the-shoulder chauvinism typical of people, who, after the eclipse of their Viking empire. were then subjected to a millennium of colonial rule, first by Denmark and then by Sweden. It showed in their exceptional courage in fighting the Germans after 1940, and it explains why their greatest playwright could not wait to get away from his native country. Ibsen's granddaughter was, it so happens, this reviewer's stepmother. The Swedes, on the other hand, are all descended from that mad genius, August Strindberg. One of the plays in this series, Kiss My Shoes, was in fact inspired by his famous Miss Julie with Strindberg's class and gender wars expanded into Sweden's current problems with

immigrants. Another Swedish play in the series was November by Lars Noren. Witty, with four characters in purgatory. who have all read Sartre's Huis Cos. this play may well get a commercial run in London. I would like to claim that you can recognise the Danish entry, A Sunny Room by Peter Asmussen, by the quality of the Carlsberg beer. It is a quite fascinating journey through time, men and women. a symbolic tree in the garden. and a lecherous old man. Touché.

Unlike the Scandinavian imports. the producers of Dvoboj at the Gate Theatre relied on our familiarity with two paintings by Roger van der Weyden and the letters of the twelfth century lovers, Abelard and Heloise, to bring the message across. They were wrong. The title, Dvoboj, apparently means a stab in the heart. Good title.

Next week I shall see Eastward Ho!, a jolly and dastardly plot, that includes the villain's abortive departure for the colonies in the West. The next day I shall see Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which celebrates the day the largest colony in the East gained independence and then proceeded to colonise Bradford and points west. Where are you Kipling when we need you?

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